Sometimes, political propaganda is just that: propaganda. A flyer or button with a name and a year, something small enough to hand out that offers a casual expression of opinion. Sometimes, it’s a bit more than that. A simple political advertisement, in the right hands, directed toward the right people, can say more than a simple “Vote for me.” The devil is in the impassioned details, in the subtext which can be translated in a thousand ways. A pro-Trump sticker, slapped on the side of a house, can just be a conservative’s odd show of support. It can also be a pointed taunt, one that draws a very deep power from the modern American psyche. For several residents of Schrier Cottage, this was the ringing interpretation when they found a Trump 2020 sticker over their cottage’s sign last Saturday morning.
“I was just so furious,” says Sylvia Rodriguez (’21), an Art History Major and Peace and Justice Minor, who calls Schrier Cottage home. “Especially because of the counterprotest I was heading to that morning.” The counterprotest in question being for the Evangelicals for Mike Pence event at Baker’s Loft. It wasn’t until after Rodriguez had returned that her housemates were informed of the incident, and their reactions varied from mad, to taken back, to confused. To them, this wasn’t a random act of vandalism; they felt they had been marked specifically, and it could have been for several reasons. Namely, two flags, one in support of Black Lives Matter and the other displaying the Pride rainbow, hung from their second-story windows. Also, Schrier Cottage is also known as the Spanish Cottage, and the students living in it are largely women of color. No other cottage in their neighborhood had gotten a sticker. To Rodriguez and her house, this wasn’t simply Trump supporters playing a prank, its connotation was a little more potent.
Mark Bryce and Kristyn Bochniak contacted Schrier Cottage quickly afterward, offering support and submitting bias reports. Campus Safety reached out as well, and Rodriquez filed an official report with Officer Chen. Officer Rios and the cottage’s Spanish Department Advisor were also quick to contact the students. And President Scogin himself sought Schrier inhabitants out with well-wishes. “It was nice to hear something from President Scogin,” Rodriguez reflects. “In my time, anyone who’s experienced a bias incident hasn’t been contacted by the president.”
Alongside the support of faculty and staff was the support of students and neighbors. Rodriguez, like her housemates, found she didn’t know what to say to these many expressions of solidarity besides simply voicing her appreciation. She laughed about needing time to think and explained “it’s different; when I came in as a Freshman, I heard all the stories about what happened during the election, and then [now] being a senior, and living out a small, very very small piece of what other people had experienced.”
Rodriquez and Gamboa-Andrade (’21), the Schrier Cottage RA, discussed what the results of the 2016 election inspired on campus, such as the threats to Scott Hall that, days after the election, caused Campus Safety Officers to patrol the inside and outside of the building. Gamboa-Andrade, who had been a Freshman at the time, recounts when her friend “was trolled by a group of boys, yelling at her ‘to go back to where she came from,’ and that ‘Trump was gonna get her out of here.’” It’s this sensitive past of the campus- and of all of America- that inspired the reactions of Schrier Cottage.
“It’s not just about me and my incident,” Rodriguez insisted, in response to the many messages she received which did not show support of her situation. People seemed to be asking whether the magnitude of the crime deserved such a response from Rodriguez, particularly her Facebook post articulating her outrage; isn’t it just a sticker? Gamboa-Andrade argued that “the way people were minimizing it, they were trying to push the situation under the rug, and for me that was, ‘if we let something like this go by, where’s it going to stop?” Rodriguez and Gamboa-Andrade implored students to see to the larger issues at play. For better or worse, many marginalized groups have come to associate “Trumps’ America” with prejudice, bias and at times even violence. Inspired by this incident, Schrier Cottage residents have brainstormed proactive measures Hope and Hope’s community can begin taking for the future. For one, they said that Hope should send out bias incidents when they occur, just as they do for COVID updates and instances of sexual harassment. “And they actually did it!” Gamboa-Andrade commented. A few days later, a campus-wide email was sent, alerting everyone to the Schrier Cottage’s incident. “I was really taken aback by, and I just really appreciated that. I think that’s a step in the right direction.” Rodriguez mentioned how some students don’t report bias incidents because they don’t believe something will actually happen. But, she argues, “Hope will listen to numbers. We need to push it forward, things are going to be done about it, and I think that encourages students.” They also discussed the value of designing a system of support for students of color in majority-white housing on election night.
Rodriguez and Gamboa-Andrade talked of the importance of protest and activism in the current world, and the positive effect it has often had, both in history and today. “I think activism spreads a message, and gets people more engaged and motivated.” In light of the current incident, Rodriguez stated that when biases occur even after protests, they only add to the reality of a world that needs to change. “I think it really pushes Administration; it’s kind of like a dog on the heels of a rabbit. When we have demonstrations, it lets administration know that they need to do something about it.” She and Gamboa-Andrade believe it to be a dynamic force on campus, one that will hopefully lead Hope into a new reality. This is why they are glad that this incident, as small as it may seem, is being acknowledged by many. Rodriguez concluded with a question; “if students can’t express their needs through activism or demonstration without being threatened, or without fear of being threatened, then is this really a safe campus?”